A Mighty Canadian Collaboration
The collaboration between The Fiddlehead and The Malahat Review invites readers to explore the regional flavors and voices arising across Canada. The Fiddlehead, an international journal centered in Atlantic Canada, opened its doors exclusively to west coast Canadian writers in an effort to close geographic gaps. In the opening editorial letter, Editor Ross Leckie states that the special issue was meant to expose readers and writers to voices across the country, to prompt discovery of an “unidentifiable evanescent thread.”
Evanescent indeed. Despite the focus on work stemming from the west coast, a quick look through the contributor bios reveals the true essence of Canadian writing; more than a handful of ‘western’ writers featured in this issue were born and raised elsewhere, some from the US even, with all eventually migrating and settling into their western regions. Coming from a migrated Canadian who now lives in the US, I understand this meshing of regional flavors. This is quintessentially Canadian. The country may have beautifully distinguishable regions, yet the voices within them branch inward, outward, and transcend borders in original ways. Thus, this issue of The Fiddlehead is perfectly representative of the diversity of styles, voices, and approaches to writing in and about Canada.
While the stories within The Fiddlehead are dominantly conventional in structure, each brings a freshness to the genre with well-rounded characters, unexpected twists, and intricate sensual detail that enlivens the text beyond the expected. For example, the haunting imagery and detail of senses in Linda Svendsen’s short story, “Restoration,” introduces the reader to the behind-the-scenes world of repairing others’ lives affected by disaster. Yet the story reveals how the damage incurred by winds, fire, and smoke compare little to the damage people do to one another.
In Bill Gaston’s story, “Cake’s Chicken,” the narrator immediately draws us in for the quick-talking voice that steers this way and that, with a tall-tale quality that lures the reader in, invites us to know more of what sense will come of youth’s mischief. The narrator is candid, sharing how a clique of two misfits was attractive to the awkward loner: “I liked them because ‘not giving a shit about anything’ looked like a bona fide wisdom that I couldn’t quite do myself.” As we see the young man, barely more than a boy, take off with the cool kids for a camping trip, his doubts at the new friendship hint at what’s to come: “Neither the car nor I would survive this, I knew.” Within this story, there is humor, mystery, introspective narration, and a rambling star character that is impossible not to embrace—for better, for worse.
A bit more experimentation comes from the poems within this issue. One of Peter Norman’s contributions includes “What a Window Sees,” which personifies the life of glass and uses language and imagery to enliven the lifeless: “High amid stones / stained glass inspects / its own design.”
Other poems demonstrate a strong connection to nature and explore northern terrains or wildlife. Patrick Lane gives us pheasants and sparrows and “the wedged language of swans,” where George Bowering contemplates the short span of life and how microscopic our imprint is on this earth: “It’s not so much how can I leave it / but rather how can it go on without me.”
While each poet narrows an individual focus, there is quite a breadth of themes and styles within the issue as a whole. New poets are aligned along the experienced, more experimental poems take place alongside more traditional lines and stanzas, and all of this contributes to an exciting glimpse of the work being created on the west coast of Canada. So too does the prose offer a variety of voices, experiences, and schools of style.
What does stand out both in the content and within the contributor bios is the experienced quality of writing. While there are no new writers claiming their first publication credit, there are a few emerging writers grouped in seamlessly with more veteran voices. Most contributors have at least one book to their credit alongside several journal publications. Yet the writing feels new and fresh with a plethora of tastes explored.
Truly, the Autumn 2012 issue of The Fiddlehead, in its collaboration with The Malahat Review, offers something for every reader regardless of age, aesthetic preferences, or previous exposure to Canadian writing. The lives depicted and the worlds created within are inviting, alluring, and will leave readers with the same sense evoked in the poem “After Flight” by Jan Zwicky: “you are still dreaming / of the life that you saw.”
From The Fiddlehead’s website, the journal is open to “good writing in English from all over the world, looking always for freshness and surprise.” Readers and potential submitters may want to preview the current issue online, where a few sample selections of this collaborative issue are available for free. Editors are open to unsolicited works in fiction and poetry and payment is approximately $40 CAD per published page, plus two complimentary copies of the journal.